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From the field

Testimony: Jerusalem municipality demolishes house; policemen assault occupant, 28 July 2008

Hiba al-'Almi, student

Hiba al-'Almi

My family’s  dream was to buy our own house. In 2002, my father bought an apartment from Mr. Majed Abu ‘Isha, who had built an apartment house. My father paid $200,000 for it, investing all his savings. The contractor showed him the building permit he had received.

In 2005, we received the apartment from Mr. Majed. My father completed the interior work and furnished it gradually. We did without a lot of things to save money to buy the furniture.

On 12 June 2006, we moved in. The next day, policemen and Jerusalem Municipality officials came and handed us a demolition order. When my father received the order, he went to Mr. Majed and asked him about it. He replied that he had deviated slightly from the building permit. Later, we learned that he had deviated a lot.

On 18 October 2006, the final order was posted on the wall of the building, and we began to remove our furniture. My father retained the lawyer Mu’in Khoury, who managed to postpone the demolition a few times. In November 2006, we returned the furniture and moved back in. The legal proceedings continued, and we knew our problem had not been resolved. My father had to borrow money to pay the lawyer.

In July 2008, teams of inspectors and Border Police forces came to the house a few times. The inspectors took pictures of the building without telling us why.

Last Sunday [27 July], around 11:30 A.M., my parents were abroad and I was home alone. The bell rang and when I opened the door, I saw three Jerusalem Municipality inspectors and a Border Police officer with high-rank insignias on his shoulder. The officer said he was a senior official in the army. They came into the house and went from room to room. I didn’t think it important because this wasn’t the first time that municipal officials and police had come to the house.

That evening, I went to spend the night at my aunt’s house, which is situated next to ours, because I didn’t want to sleep at home alone.

Around 1 A.M., a neighbor called and told me the municipality and the police might come at night to the building, and that I should be at home. Around 2, I returned home, with my aunt. We waited and couldn’t sleep. We heard the neighbors moving about on the stairs.

Around 3:30 A.M., I heard the sound of stun grenades exploding. After that, there was banging on the door. My aunt and I went to open it. When I opened the door, a few policemen burst in with black masks on their faces. They had five huge dogs with them. They ordered us to leave the building immediately. I told one of them that I wanted to get dressed because I was in pajamas. He said he would go into the room with me and I shouted at him and didn't agree. He swore at me. Then the policemen hit me in the back and slapped me. One of the dogs came over to my leg and almost attacked me. Out of fear, I kicked it. Because I kicked the dog, the policemen hit me again, and one of them grabbed me by the hair and threw me to the floor. One of the policemen stepped on my back and the others kicked me and continued to swear at me.

This lasted for a few minutes. Then one of the policemen grabbed me by the shoulder and lifted me up. He pushed me out of the apartment  and down the stairs. There were lots of policemen in the stairway, and they hit and punched me. While they were removing me, I begged them to let me go back to the house so I could at least take my passport and jewelry, which was worth more than $50,000. I had diamonds and there was also lots of money in the apartment, about $50,000 that my father was holding for some people. In my study there was my final project that I was working on for school, and I had things for school I wanted to take off the computer.

A few minutes later, I found myself outside the building, on the main road. I tried to go back to the apartment a few times, but the policemen didn't let me. When I insisted that I take personal things of mine from the apartment, they said everything would be brought out with the furniture.

Around 11:30 A.M., my father returned from Cairo, He didn't look good. The area around the building was still closed, and they didn't let us enter.

Around 6:30 P.M., I heard a loud explosion. I was about 150 meters from the building. The whole building collapsed, and my life was buried with it. All my mementos and pictures of the family were buried in the ruins. I cried and felt that we had been uprooted, and had nothing. Since then, we have been living with my aunt.

After we recovered a bit, we asked the lawyer to check where our things were. He sent us to Kfar Saba [not far from Tel Aviv]. When we got there, we found that about twenty percent of our clothes and property were missing, including about $40,000. My jewelry box was empty.

I found the case for my laptop, but the computer wasn’t there. I got some sacks with my clothes in them, but the expensive clothes weren’t there. We also lost all the furniture that was in the house. />

We now live in a rented house again.

Hiba Khalil Ahmad al-'Almi, 26, is a student and a resident of Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem. Her testimony was given to Kareem Jubran on 3 August 2008 at the witness's home.